LONDON (Reuters) - Olivier Giroud strengthened his claim as Chelsea’s first-choice centre forward, and probably boosted his World Cup prospects with France too, when he scored with style on Sunday to send the London club on their way to the FA Cup final.
Giroud netted one of the best goals seen at Wembley in recent years when he took a pass from Eden Hazard and with two touches weaved past three Southampton defenders and the keeper before scoring with a flick of his boot.
“My second passion is actually skiing,” Giroud joked with BT Sport.
“But to be serious Eden gave me a good ball but I saw a lot of players in front of me. I just tried to dribble it a little bit and I had a bit of luck. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Giroud, who signed for Chelsea in January after falling out of favour with London rivals Arsenal, was given a standing ovation by Chelsea’s supporters when he was replaced by Spain’s Alvaro Morata.
Former Real Madrid striker Morata has struggled after a strong start to his first season at Stamford Bridge. But he scored with an emphatic header to seal Chelsea’s 2-0 semi-final win over Southampton and set up a final against Manchester United on May 19.
“I think for sure he has been a good signing for us,” Chelsea coach Antonio Conte told reporters when asked about Giroud’s impact at Stamford Bridge.
“I needed a player with this characteristic, strong physically, to hold the ball up, to know our number 10 (Hazard) to make combinations with him.”
Conte praised Morata for his speed, but said he chose Giroud to start ahead of the Spaniard on Sunday because his muscular style was best suited to take on Southampton’s strong three-man central defence.
Giroud scored twice against Southampton last weekend in a league match and has now taken his overall Chelsea goal tally to four, improving his chances of making an impact for France at the World Cup in Russia this year.
Giroud was warned by the French national team’s assistant manager Guy Stephan in December, before his transfer to Chelsea, that he could lose his place in the national squad if he did not get more playing time.
Additional reporting by Christian Radnedge; Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Ed Osmond